It’s sometimes said that in sports, “the best offense is a good defense.”

Obviously it pays to be proficient in both offensive and defensive moves when it comes to fencing – and every other sport, for that matter – but in this section we’ll discuss some of those basic defensive moves that you should familiarize yourself with.

Distance control.

It’s said by some that the fencer that controls the distance between the opponents controls the bout.

Your browser may not support display of this image. Keep in mind that fencing is not about a frenzied, overpowering attack.  Your goal is not just to score points for yourself but to create a scenario that denies your opponent their points as well.

Part of your planning should involve drawing out an anticipated response from your opponent, that then makes him vulnerable and which can be exploited – much like a chess player will bait their opponent, having several moves planned at once.

When considering how to control a bout, always think about controlling the distance between yourself and your opponent.  You want to stay far enough away to keep from being hit, but able to move in close enough to score your own point once your opponent does become vulnerable.

Here are some terms regarding distance control in fencing:

closed distance – the opposing fencer is so close that you must withdraw your weapon arm to bring the point of your foil to target surface

short distance – you can reach your opponent’s target surface by simply extending your arm

middle distance – you can reach your opponent’s target surface by lunging

long distance – you can reach your opponent’s target surface by advance-lunging, jump-lunging, or fleching

out-of-distance – you are beyond long distance

critical distance – you are so close to your opponent that you can hit him with an attack before he can physically respond

Parry, riposte, counter-riposte.

The parry.

A parry is just a simple defensive movement that’s only wide enough to allow your opponent’s blade to miss it’s mark.  It’s performed with the strongest part of the blade, closest to the hilt.

Your browser may not support display of this image. Parries are sometimes done in a straight line, but can also involve a circular, semi-circular, or diagonal motion.

To review the movements of parries and the lines along the body that they correspond to, see the previous section on Basics of Blade work.

Here are some terms to remember regarding parries:

Lateral (quarte to sixte, septime to octave, and vice-versa).

Vertical (octave to lifted sixte, octave to lifted septime and vice-versa)

Circular (the counter parries: contre de sixte, contre d’octave, etc.)

Semi-circular (sixte to septime, octave to quarte, and vice-versa)


In conversation, a “riposte” is a quick and often witty or sarcastic response, such as to an insult.

In fencing, a riposte is like such an answer.  It is an attack following a parry.  A simple (or direct) riposte goes straight from the parry position to the target.


When your opponent offers a riposte toward you, your reaction is a counter-riposte.  Counter-riposte can be the second, third, or any further action.


Stamping the front foot to the ground, to produce a sound to distract or startle the opponent.  This may be made during an advance, or directly from an en garde position.